A computer game that was partly developed in Dundee has taken the world by storm, selling more than 20 million copies. Jack McKeown examines the phenomenal success of Minecraft.
The city of Minas Tirith from The Lord of the Rings. A massive dragon with its wings outspread. The Coliseum. The Earth, with its countries all to scale. These are just some of the creations developed by players of Minecraft, one of the world’s most successful computer games.
For those who do not number among the game’s 20 million fanbase, it allows players to build constructions out of textured cubes.
The game can be played in various modes. In one, players have to mine their own resources before they can begin building. Only by careful harvesting and management of natural resources can they begin to build, creating shelter from the monsters that spawn in the darker corners of the map.
In creative mode, meanwhile, players start with infinite resources and can build the crazy mega-structures the game has become known for.
One player even built a scale model of their holiday hotel in Turkey, which was so thorough you could walk down the corridors looking into the restaurants, bars, kitchen and even walk into every room.
The Minecraft Hotel Baia Lara took its maker almost as long to develop as the real thing took to build.
Minecraft was created by Swedish programmer Marcus Persson, who developed the game from home.
A developmental version was released in 2009 and on the back of its success the fully-polished game was launched for the PC in 2011.
It has made him rich. The game has sold more than 20 million copies across a range of different formats.
One of the most successful of these is the Xbox 360 version, which was developed by 4J Studios in Dundee.
On its release last May it became the fastest-selling title in Xbox history, selling in excess of 400,000 copies in its first 24 hours four times more than the previous record holder and last week saw it sail through the eight million mark.
The phenomenal level of sales meant the game recouped its development costs within one hour of going on sale.
Minecraft was initially sold as a download-only game but such was the demand that its makers launched a hard-copy version that is sold in computer games stores and supermarkets.
Remarkably, despite already having been on sale for a year, being launched in a new format propelled Minecraft back to the top of the computer games bestseller chart.
It remained there for three weeks and was only knocked off the number one spot this week.
Chris van der Kuhl is the co-founder of 4J Studios. He says the key to the game’s success is that its boundaries are defined only by the player’s imagination.
“We’ve seen a model of Edinburgh Castle,” he says. Someone else created a replica of the Starship Enterprise, block by block.
“A group of three or four players created Old Trafford, with almost perfect accuracy.”
“One of the great things is it can be whatever game you want it to be. You can come in and build your own architectural dream or you can play in survival mode and have to harvest resources before you can build.
“One day you can be building a replica of the Taj Mahal and the next you can be trying to survive as a farmer or a miner.”
The upshot is a game where the players decide what happens.
“Most games are limited by the imagination of their designer,” Chris continues. “This one is limited by the imagination of its players. Minecraft’s designers could probably only have imagined 5% of what its players have done.
“When you reach a really advanced level in the game you get access to a substance called Redstone which lets people build things that simulate electricity. We’ve had someone build a silicon chip from scratch that actually works within the game. Somebody else designed a self-playing piano that lets you programme songs into it.”
According to Chris, the creative aspect of Minecraft means parents view their children playing it through a more positive lens than is usual with video games.
“My kids are eight, six and four and they all play it,” he says. “Unlike some games, it’s very creative and stretches their imagination, so I don’t mind them playing it.”